If you wanted to keep your land in Bronze Age Greece, you could do worse than marry your cousin.
A team of international researchers analyzing the genomes of ancient human remains found that, unlike other European societies of the time, first cousins in Minoan Crete and Mycenaean Greece intermarried frequently.
Experts from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, along with an international team of partners, have analyzed more than 100 genomes of Bronze Age people from the Aegean.
The team behind the study, published Monday in the scientific journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, say their findings provide “exciting insights” into the social order of the Aegean Bronze Age.
By analyzing the DNA of people buried in a tomb under the courtyard of a house in a Mycenaean hamlet on the Greek mainland, researchers have managed to reconstruct the family tree of its inhabitants from the 16th century BC.
Archaeologist Professor Philipp Stockhammer, one of the study’s lead authors, told CNN: “We wanted to see how people buried together were genetically related and what you can learn about the relevance of genetic relatedness to the structure of society”.
“We succeeded in building the first family pedigree for the Mediterranean. We can see who lived together in this house by looking at who was buried outside in the yard.
“We could see, for example, that the three sons lived as adults in this house. One of the marriage partners brought his sister and a child. It’s a very complex group of people living together.
Even more surprising was the finding that around half of the people living on the islands married their cousins, while the proportion on the mainland was around a third.
“It’s not 100%, but not everyone has a cousin,” Stockhammer said.
“People have studied thousands of ancestral genomes and there is virtually no evidence for past societies of cousin-cousin marriage. From a historical perspective, this is truly exceptional,” he said. -he adds.
Stockhammer and his colleagues believe that these unions were due to economics, to prevent the division of family lands.
He explained, “The whole driving force is to unite the land within the family. If you look at what people grew it was grapes and also olives for olive oil, but grapes and olives might need to be in a certain place for decades.
“If you marry into your family, that means you focus on staying in the same area.”
He said that in contrast, in other parts of Bronze Age Europe, women often traveled hundreds of miles to get married. Resources in these areas would have been more abundant, he explained.
“In Greece there is not a lot of space to grow things and the things you plant need decades to grow,” he said.
“We can completely see cousin-to-cousin marriage from the genomic evidence. Too many people do it to say it’s pure luck, but it’s not 100%. I would say that was a pretty strict practice.
“It’s an unwritten rule because everyone has done it.”
Stockhammer explained the significance of the find saying, “With this knowledge, we are fundamentally compelled to rethink the social organizations of this period and the societies that were behind these amazing works of art and architecture.
“It’s a society where we wrote about palace administrations, but now we’re able to say something about normal people.”